Rise and Report

Last Thursday was a very long day at City Hall. In part because we’re still finding our way as a working group – balancing the nine strong voices at the table, ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard. In part because there were three items that took a lot of time to get through – two in open session, one in closed. Royal Athletic Park

Because I now know ‘rise and report’, I can discuss all three here and would love your input on the third. Read on.

Shannon Craig (Corporate Policy Analyst) and Rob Woodland (Director of Legislative Services) presented a detailed report requesting changes to the “Vehicles for Hire Bylaw”. On the table was everything from how many pedicab licenses they City should issue to how much weight should horses be allowed to pull. Councillor Isitt aimed to amend motions to include the public in discussion. Councillors Madoff and Colemen also pointed to the need for a more complete understanding of how the proposed changes affect not only the businesses in question, but also the public and the public realm. I agree. Because these are bylaw changes, they will require a public hearing and likely some consultation before that. This is a good thing.

My intervention was to make a motion to increase the number of pedicab licenses from 28 to 75. I put this forward on the basis that pedicabs provide an opportunity for small-scale entrepreneurship, they are human-powered and create zero emissions, they increase the vibrancy of the public realm, and with more licenses approved than are necessary (we were told there are no more than 50 people right now wanting licenses) there is no drain on staff resources to administer a bidding or lottery process needed for allocating limited licenses. The motion carried.

The next item of significant business was a decision to move the Reliance Properties proposal for the Northern Junk site forward to Heritage Advisory Committee, Advisory Design panel and a third party economic analysis. The Times Colonist reported that Northern Junk plan divides city council. However, what was clear at the table was not ‘division’ but that rather that there’s room for a diversity of opinion. And once the motion had passed, even those councillors opposed chimed in to give direction to Deb Day (Director of Planning) and her staff about the kinds of issues they’d like considered.

In the Northern Junk discussion, Councillor Isitt introduced a motion to delay approval of the staff recommendation until we receive an update on the possibility of rail crossing the new Johnson Street bridge. A decision was made by the last council that there would be no rail bridge. There are a number of us who want to know what the load rating of the new bridge is, in case sometime in the next 100 years or so street cars might once again become a critical piece of the city’s transportation infrastructure. This motion was defeated. I voted against it because while I believe the potential for rail on the bridge is imperative, I don’t think it is fair to tie it to whether this development moves forward or not. Councillor Isitt introduced a subsequent notice of motion asking for a report on rail on the bridge. This is a good thing!

In the afternoon, we moved into closed session – for the reasons outlined in the agenda thanks to a process that I helped to institute last week, stating the reasons for going in camera. The Vic News found this simple innovation newsworthy! Victoria city council to publish reason for closing meeting. In closed session, I made a motion to rise and report on a motion we passed: “That Council authorize the Director of Parks and Recreation to enter into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the summer use of the Royal Athletic Park in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor.” And now my question to you: What are your priorities for summer use of the Royal Athletic Park? Should any group have exclusive use of the park or should any agreement include a commitment to mixed use? Email me your thoughts at lisa@lisahelpsvictoria.ca.

Rise and Report

I learned a new tool at city hall this week called ‘rise and report’. This is the mechanism to bring decisions that were made in closed session into the public realm. I used it. Please read on; this is important even if you’re not concerned about the Northern Junk lands per se.

Many people are aware of the proposed development by Reliance Properties of the Northern Junk buildings at Pandora and Wharf. People have written to me both in support of and opposed to the development.

 Proposed condo building and refurbished Northern Junk buildings

This proposed development is far from the public hearing stage – that’s the time and place for the developer to present the project to the public and for the public to speak. On December 15th, the Governance and Priorities Committee of Council asked for more information before deciding whether to move the project along to the next phase – an analysis of economic benefits to the city, and to Advisory Design Panel and Heritage Advisory Committee. This information will be provided on January 26th.

Here’s the kicker. Many of the folks opposed to the project are opposed on the basis that public lands will be sold to the developer. Some claim that public lands should not be sold without going on the open market. Others claim that the boulevard in question is valuable public green space and shouldn’t be removed at any cost. It is too late. In closed session on January 14, 2010, Councillor Lucas moved and Councillor Luton seconded that Council:

1. Grant permission for the developer to submit a rezoning application for the City-owned land as shown on Map 1, attached to the report dated December 17, 2009, recognizing that this would not fetter their discretion on considering the rezoning and that Council’s expectation is that any rezoning proposal would:

a.) Be consistent with the height regulations contained in the CA-3C Zone (Old Town District)

b.) Be consistent with the Old Town Design Guidelines.

c.) Include a pathway connecting the bridge and Wharf St, the design of which acknowledges the public importance of this space and link.

2. Enter into an agreement of purchase and sale for the above noted property, at fair market value, once (my emphasis) any Official Community Plan and zoning amendments are complete and necessary development controls have been established.

Council passed this motion and committed public lands for sale to the developer, two years ago. I thought it important to ‘rise and report’ on this issue because it provides the full context in which we must all consider the proposed development.

Busy day at City Hall yesterday

Running off to meetings this morning then away overnight but will give brief update about what happened, how I voted, and why.

Significant items included the Northern Junk building proposal at Wharf. Reliance Properties proposes to restore two heritage buildings, build another building and create public amenities. Staff recommended moving this forward to Heritage, Design and undertaking a third party economic analysis as to whether the amenities provided were adequate for the zoning and changes required.

There was significant discussion at the table as to whether this is the best use of waterfront lands and how this fits into the plans for the new Johnson Street Bridge. Ultimately, the proposal is moving along with staff to come back to Governance and Priorities Committee (that’s council meeting as a whole every second Thursday morning – important policy decisions made here, meetings begin at 10:00am) with drawings of the new Johnson Street Bridge incorporated into the plans. I supported moving the proposal along and getting more information about how it will benefit the city and the public realm.

Other matters discussed include: re-opening the Chander-Gonzales Pathway – I’m in support. And approving Festival Grants for 2012 ($156,000) – I’m in support and was astounded to find that these grants combined with the operating budgets of festival organizers provide over 8 million dollars in local economic spinoffs. I like this principle of small investments by the city, combined with the efforts of citizens, creating great benefits to all. There was a budget update and request to transfer monies from contingency to operating.

Extra council meeting

I wanted to let everyone know about an extra council meetingthis week – Tuesday from 2-3pm. I can’t seem to find the agenda online to put a link to it (nor one to Thursday’s regular council meeting – perhaps these go up Monday?) to post here. The purpose of Tuesday’s special meeting is to slightly increase the user fees beginning January 1 2012 for Garbage Pickup, Sewer, and Water. Proposed changes include Garbage and Recycling Fee increase per Single Family Dwelling per year from $195.12 to $202.92.

The increase reflects increased labour and benefit costs, increased equipment costs, increased costs for operating the Saturday Residential Yard and Garden Waste drop off facility, and the cost of preparing for the new Organics and Garbage Collection Program. Sewer consumption fee proposed to go from $1.58 to $1.74 and Frontage Service Charge from $2.26 to $2.51. The Water Consumption Fee to increase from $2.74 to $3.00 (still very low compared to much of rest of CRD) Meter Service Charge to increase by an average of 10% (Staff reports detail what this all means; come to City Hall Tuesday to grab a copy if you’re interested).